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Is COVID Taking a Toll on Your Mental Health?

Is COVID Taking a Toll on Your Mental Health?

It’s not surprising that mental health issues are increasing across the U.S. and around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Seemingly overnight, our lives changed in ways no one could have imagined. Health concerns, job losses and a disruption of everyday life have been taking their toll on just about everyone to some extent. Fear of the unknown is making many of us feel unsettled.

Although avoiding the coronavirus may be your top health priority right now, managing your mental health is just as essential for your well-being. If you don’t “feel like yourself” these days or can’t seem to get out of a funk, there are things you can do on your own to start feeling better – and help is available when you need it.

Know That You’re Not Alone

After the novel coronavirus reared its ugly head, lockdowns and social distancing meant we could no longer spend time with friends or family members, celebrate important occasions together or even go to school and work. As if these changes weren’t stressful enough, we have also had to worry about our health and the health of family members. Concerns about job security, unemployment and finances have only worsened stress and anxiety, particularly among people who already struggle with mental health issues.

As weeks have stretched into months, worry and stress have only increased. Even as restrictions have been easing, Americans are feeling the effects of a world turned upside down. According to the U.S. National Pandemic Emotional Impact Report released on June 29, 2020, 55% of people surveyed reported feeling more stressed than in January. Additionally, 53% said they were worried about finances, 66% were concerned about the health and safety of friends and family members and 51% felt more anxious or ill at ease.

What You Can Do to Improve Your Mental Health

Stress and anxiety don’t just take a toll on your mental health. They also affect your physical health, increasing your risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and other health conditions and diseases. Chronic stress may also affect your immune system’s ability to fight viruses like the coronavirus.

Here are some ways to improve your mental health:

  • Counseling. Whether in-person or virtual, talking with a mental health professional can help you manage stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, depression and other mental health conditions. Your primary care physician can provide a recommendation if you don’t already have a mental health counselor. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides a free helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). NAMI peer counselors offer support and can suggest support groups and other resources.
  • Social connection. Lack of socialization may contribute to stress, loneliness, sadness and depression. You may not be able to spend the evening at a concert with friends or enjoy a meal with your grandparents, but that doesn’t mean your relationships have to suffer. Skype, Zoom and other videoconferencing software – or your phone – make it easy to stay connected to the people important to you. As long as you follow social distancing guidelines for your area, you can also enjoy an outdoor meal or small get-together with friends and relatives.
  • Self-care. Taking care of your physical health is particularly important for your mental health. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and exercising several times a week can help you battle stress and anxiety naturally. In fact, physical activity decreases the production of stress hormones and triggers the release of endorphins, brain chemicals that improve your mood. Avoid alcohol, smoking, caffeine and drugs, which may only make your condition worse.
  • Distraction. Improving your mental health is also affected by what you can do to relax, have fun and forget about the craziness going on in the world around you. Create a “bag of tricks” that help keep you happy and at ease. Watch your favorite movie, write your thoughts in a journal, learn a new skill, indulge in a hobby, meditate or just put on some music, close your eyes and tune out the world for a little while. The break you take from the daily stressors in your life will do you good.
  • Mental health treatment. If you already have an existing mental health condition, or notice signs of a new condition, it’s important to get the treatment you need. Even if you have had to switch to telemedicine, it’s important to keep up with regularly scheduled appointments. If you have been prescribed medication for your condition or other treatment, keep up with it as recommended. And if you notice any new or worsening symptoms, notify your doctor.

If you are struggling with changes to your life caused by the pandemic, know that you are not alone. Do what you can to improve how you feel mentally but also know that help is available when you need it. Prioritize your mental health just as you would your physical health to stay healthier – and happier – overall.

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